Trainer Willie Mullins
© Photo Healy RacingWillie Mullins was officially crowned Irish champion jumps trainer for the 13th time on the final day of the Punchestown Festival.
In each of the previous two seasons, the Closutton maestro has entered the final week of the season significantly behind his great rival Gordon Elliott in the race for the title — only to sensationally turn it around at a meeting he has dominated in recent years.
There was no such drama this season, however, with Mullins already well clear at the start of the week, and a tally of 10 Punchestown winners sealed the deal — seeing him end the campaign having earned over six million euros in prize-money.
Even by his own meteoric standards, it has been quite a year for Mullins — finally breaking his Cheltenham Gold Cup hoodoo with Al Boum Photo in March before landing his first Irish Grand National with Burrows Saint just a few weeks later.
Earlier this week Kemboy provided him with a fifth Punchestown Gold Cup triumph and his 200th winner of the season — a victory which saw Mullins’ long-time stable jockey and ally Ruby Walsh bring his glittering riding career to an end.
In winning a 13th title, Mullins now has one more championship than Tom Dreaper — trainer of the mighty Arkle.
Paul Townend claimed his second Irish jump jockeys’ championship — adding to the title he claimed in 2010/11.
As well as steering home Al Boum Photo at Cheltenham, Townend reached a century of winners for the season for the first time in his career in March.
He said: “You need a lot of luck to be champion jockey — a lot of luck throughout the whole season, which we had.
“We had great backing from Willie (Mullins) and a lot of trainers throughout the summer. We kept rolling through the winter and it’s nice to finally be here at the end of the season and be crowned champion jockey.
“I definitely appreciate it a bit more than last time I won it. I thought I had the game mastered by then and obviously I was foolish to think so.
“To be champion jockey you have to perform consistently throughout the season and it’s great to do it.”
It was an epic tussle for much of the season, with Townend matched by Rachael Blackmore for a long time before eventually pulling clear.
Townend added: “Rachael has definitely made me work for it and she definitely is buying me dinner!
“We’re great friends and great rivals. What she’s done in such a short space of time is incredible. Nothing was handed to her and she went out and earned everything she got.
“She’s had an unbelievable season and there’s no doubt she’ll be pushing us again next season.”
Having been understudy to Walsh for so long, Townend will now be the stable jockey at Mullins’ yard and is relishing the challenge.
He said: “It was a shock (Walsh’s retirement). It’s been a rollercoaster of a week. Ruby has made his decision and I wish him all the best. I’ve been privileged to work with someone I admire so much for almost a decade.
“It’s obviously a massive help to me going forward to have had such a good season — to have won a Gold Cup.
“You need confidence in this game and winners give you confidence. It’s probably been a nice transition and if we can get half the success Ruby has had, we’ll be doing well.
“Hopefully we can just slip in there now and ride plenty of winners.”
Donal McInerney was crowned champion conditional rider for the second successive year, while Patrick Mullins is champion amateur for the 11th time.
Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud operation beat JP McManus to the champion owner title and Lisa O’Neill is the champion lady amateur.